As the Order of Malta has increased its worldwide activities dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, it is also shining a light on the compelling need to raise attention on human trafficking. The pandemic and its aftermath, with the restriction of movement, closure of borders, and the reduction of social and public services, are all factors that are increasing the vulnerability of people falling victims to human traffickers and exposing them to all of its forms: slave labour, forced marriage, forced motherhood, sale of children, prostitution, forced commission of crimes, forced organ removal (organ harvesting). Hence, the Order of Malta insists that there is a necessity to scale up prevention and protection programmes in order to properly assist victims.
The coronavirus pandemic cannot be approached only from a medical and social perspective says Michel Veuthey one of the Order of Malta’s Ambassadors at large dealing with monitoring and combating human trafficking: “We must ensure that the essential rights to life and dignity of all are respected, regardless of their age, sex, social or legal status. One of the reasons for serious violations of fundamental human rights is the unawareness of standards and the weakness of their implementation mechanisms, which are increased in these times of pandemic”. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has pointed out that due to the pandemic, more children are being forced onto the streets to search for food and money, thus increasing their risk of exploitation. Also, the closure of school has not only blocked access to education but also a source of shelter and food for millions of children. The UN recently reported that some 370 million students worldwide are now missing out on school meals, often their sole source of nutrition.
Raising awareness, taking action and increasing dialogue with partners in sharing best practices are the key steps guiding the action of the Order of Malta in fighting human trafficking. As the pandemic paralyses international and academic meetings, the Order of Malta in collaboration with a Swiss foundation, the “Collège universitaire Henry-Dunant”, is making an online course against human trafficking for helpers available for free. Training, education, and public communication should be directed towards helpers as well as to all who may come across a potential victim, such as immigration officials, police officers, airline staff, medical doctors, nurses, judges, priests and nuns.
At each session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well Vienna and New York, the Order of Malta makes interventions on various forms of human trafficking or contemporary slavery: forced labor, forced marriages and motherhood, sale of children, pornography, forced organ harvesting. The Order of Malta is also increasing partnerships with a number of universities in France, Italy, Switzerland and the USA for this year’s 20th anniversary of the Palermo Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons.